FRESH START. Couple Ervie Dumasig San Fernando, 29, and Jeric Miranda, 25, along with their two kids and Carlo San Fernando (Ervie's brother) undergo orientation on the “Balik Probinsya, Bagong Pag-Asa” (BP2) program at the BP2 Depot in Quezon City on Wednesday (March 9, 2022). They are among the seven families scheduled to depart Manila to return to the provinces of Camarines Norte, Camarines Sur, and Naga City on the next day. (PNA photo by Robert Oswald P. Alfiler)

MANILA – Struggling in Talisay, Camarines Norte way back in 2018, couple Ervie Dumasig San Fernando, 29, and Jeric Miranda, 25, sought chances of having a better life in Metro Manila.

The couple, along with their then one-year-old son, left their simple life in the province to seek a better future in the metropolis.

A few days after arriving in Cainta, Rizal, the couple got their luck as Jeric became a construction worker while Ervie was employed as a house helper. They eventually rented a house in Pasig City after staying for a while with relatives.

At first, the couple said life was quite easy on them and a daughter was added to the happy family.

However, the sweet, happy life in the city didn't last long. With the onset of the global health crisis, the couple's family was struggling anew, financially.

"Noong una po maganda naman ang hanapbuhay kaso nagkapandemya, mas lalo po kami nahirapan na halos di na kami makabayad ng renta ng bahay at yung asawa ko po bihira na lang makapagtrabaho" (At first, we have stable jobs, but when the pandemic hit us, we were even more struggling to the point that we can hardly pay our rent and my husband rarely gets a job)," Ervie shared.

When the Covid-19 pandemic struck in 2020, it made a significant impact on the construction sector—which Jeric belongs to—and has been felt by many.

The spread of infections and series of lockdowns disrupted the economy and greatly affected the construction industry.

Like some other "probinsyanos" who have desired to have a sustainable life in Metro Manila, the country's center of economic activities, the couple said their dream for a better life has been crumbled.

Redemption, fresh start

Ervie said traveling to Metro Manila became an unsound decision for them.

Thanks to the government's Balik Probinsya, Bagong Pag-asa Program (BP2), the couple was once again given another opportunity to have a fresh start, this time, trying their luck back to their hometown in Camarines Norte.

"Sinubukan po namin kumatok sa Balik Probinsya program kasi po may nakapagsabi na kahit papaano ay mabibigyan kami ng pinansyal na tulong, konting pangkabuhayan para po sa panimula namin sa probinsya (We tried to apply for Balik Probinsya program because someone said that at least we could get financial and livelihood assistance that we can use for our fresh start in the province)," Ervie said.

Once back in the hometown, Ervie said she will start selling fish—because Jeric is also a fisherman—so that they can start saving money for their children's future.

"Kahit papaano po sa probinsya magaan ang pamumuhay, hindi gaya dito na mahal ang mga bilihin. Doon kahit walang pambiling ulam meron namang sariwang gulay na maasahan, pipitas ka lang. Dito naman bibilhin mo lahat, magbabayad kapa ng kuryente at tubig eh sa probinsya hindi naman ganoon. Mas okay na po yung sitwasyon doon (At least there's an easy life in the province, unlike here, goods are expensive. Even if you don't have money to buy food in the province, you can just rely on fresh vegetables, you can just pick. Unlike here you have to purchase everything, you'll have to pay for electricity and water. In the province, it's not like that. There is a better situation there)," Ervie said.

The couple is grateful for the BP2 program.

"Malaking pasasalamat po namin sa Balik Probinsya. Dahil sa programang ito nabigyan kami ng pag-asang makabalik sa probinsya noong nawalan ng ibang tutulong sa amin (We are very thankful to the Balik Probinsya. Because of this program, we were given hope to go back to the province, when no one was able to help us)," Ervie said.

She added the program must continue so that other people like them will have the same opportunity.

"Sana po tuluy-tuloy ang programa ng balik probinsya para po sa iba pang nangangailangan ng tulong (I hope the balik probinsya program will continue so that others can be assisted too)," Ervie said.

Plans for future

With a new beginning, the couple, who were both undergraduates, said they want their children to finish schooling and fulfill their dreams so that they can effectively support their own families in the future.

Jeric wishes he could get assistance such as a fishing boat and fishing nets that he can use for his livelihood.

He further promised he will do better in the province this time, to save enough money for the education of their 5- and 2-year-old kids.

"Gusto ko po makatapos sila sa pag-aaral. Iyon po muna ang pinaka-importante sa ngayon (I want them to finish their studies. That is the most important thing for now)," he said.

Ervie and Jeric, along with their kids, were among another batch of seven families set to travel back to the provinces of Camarines Norte, Camarines Sur, and Naga City on Thursday night.

The government will send off a total of 32 beneficiaries who have successfully enrolled in the BP2 program.

The Balik Probisya, Bagong Pag-Asa (BP2) program was institutionalized through Executive Order No. 114, signed by President Rodrigo Duterte on May 6, 2020—which targets to address congested urban areas in Metro Manila.

The National Housing Authority, the lead implementer of the Balik Probinsya program, earlier said certain packages for the beneficiaries will be provided by the government and its concerned implementing agencies, upon their return to their respective provinces "for good". (PNA)